As published in The Sun:
The power-sharing deal to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly for the first time in three years is almost entirely good news for the province.
It comes with a generous £2billion package of subsidies.
But in the middle of the deal is one element that has raised enormous concern.
It is the continued investigation into the killings that took place in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
The overwhelming majority of them were carried out by terrorists. Yet these inquiries focus unfairly on Army veterans.
The Troubles were an extremely difficult period for Northern Ireland and the whole UK — 38 years of fighting, terror and threats to our daily lives. It left indelible scars on the fabric of the nation. Thousands died.
This is why it is imperative we take legitimate accusations
Where murder has been committed, where the law has been broken and when wrong has been done, legal recourse must be available.
In a free and liberal society, the rule of law must be absolute.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Historic Enquiries Team — and its successor, the Legacy Investigation Branch — are important.
Their role is to investigate any allegations of wrongdoing, on all sides of the Troubles.
Their aim is to deliver the truth of what happened to people killed during that time and deliver closure to the families about the loss of their loved ones.
Focus on the murders
But their approach is flawed. The Armed Forces were responsible for approximately ten per cent of killings during the Troubles.
Yet 30 per cent of the effort is going into investigating
Bear in mind our troops operated under the rule of law.
Furthermore, they were constrained by the “Yellow Card” rules that, quite properly, required them to use minimum force and only use lethal force essentially to protect life.
The Army records everything — especially when someone gets hurt, never mind a death.
So the vast majority of killings by the Armed Forces were legal, we know about them and authorities investigated them at the time.
By contrast, every killing by a paramilitary terrorist was illegal, either murder or manslaughter. Many were preceded by torture and too often the aim was a maximum death-rate “spectacular”.
And of course, there were no written records.
On the contrary, many victims simply disappeared, their bodies disposed of in unknown ways.
For families to get closure when they do not even have a body is incredibly hard.
So the ratio of effort should be massively focused on cases that were clearly murder.
I do not for a moment think we should condone, nor turn a blind eye to, murders carried out in uniform.
Indeed, I have always thought soldiers should meet higher standards than everyone else, as do the overwhelming majority of people.
But the fear today is that we are going to see a sudden rush of new investigations into honourable and decent people whose only crime is to have served their country with patriotism and courage.
Men in their seventies and eighties could face the misery of being dragged through the courts over events in which they behaved entirely properly but which are capable of misrepresentation because of the clouding of the mists of time.
That is why Boris Johnson’s manifesto pledge to end the unfair prosecution of our veterans is crucial.
The Prime Minister is right to say loyal soldiers should be protected from politically motivated and vexatious accusations of murder.
But that protection should be legislated for now.
Wrecked by false claims
We cannot afford to let those who have served our country loyally, with honour and valour, have their lives wrecked by false claims.
All police investigations must start from the basis of evidence. Yet the evidence is not available.
Out of five cases brought against Army personnel, four were not pursued because there was not evidence to support the allegation. In the wake of the Good Friday Agreement, Tony Blair sent “comfort letters” to more than 200 IRA suspects, assuring them they were no longer wanted by police.
They were effectively an amnesty and a “get out of jail free” card for those who became known as “on-the-runs”.
Nobody is looking for an amnesty for members of the Armed Forces who overstepped the mark.
Nobody is looking for a murderer to be exempt from
Any wrongdoing must be punished.
We are looking for an end to the cruel, politically motivated and vexatious treatment of soldiers who did their job, served their country and put their lives on the line.
Innocent soldiers face imprisonment for a crime that has not been committed or are left in limbo with settled cases being reopened.
Give troops clarity and certainty
It is hard to improve on the conclusion of Parliament’s all-party Defence Select Committee on this subject: “We believe that to subject former service personnel to legal pursuit under the current arrangements is wholly oppressive and a denial of natural justice.”
In his statement this week, Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith was non-committal about how the Government plans to handle this. That cannot be right.
The Government must give our troops the clarity and certainty they deserve now.
We need to take sensible, level-headed action.
Which means we need to make sure straight away there are comprehensive legal protections for those who deserve the Government’s aid.
Allowing vexatious claims against those who have acted with honour — who have served our country loyally, and who now face false charges of murder in their seventies — is not good enough.
They protected us when we were in danger. It is our turn to protect them now.
Truth, reconciliation and closure for the families of the
Absolutely. Gratuitous harassment of our brave and patriotic soldiers? Never.
As reported in the Belfast Telegraph:
David Davis demands new legislation to end prosecutions of
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis has backed Boris Johnson’s pledge to end “vexatious” prosecutions of Army veterans – but said the promise should be introduced as law urgently.
The Tory MP said the Northern Ireland power-sharing deal brokered earlier this month was “almost entirely good news for the province” but that one element had raised “enormous concern”.
He said this issue was the ongoing investigation into the killings that took place during the Troubles.
Writing in the Sun on Sunday, Mr Davis said of the killings: “The overwhelming majority of them were carried out by terrorists. Yet these inquiries focus unfairly on Army veterans.”
The latest power-sharing deal, brokered by Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith and Tanaiste Simon Coveney, committed the UK Government to introducing legislation to implement the 2014 Stormont House Agreement within 100 days.
Last week, Boris Johnson said that “nothing in the agreement, I want to reassure the House, will stop us from going ahead with legislation to make sure that no-one who served in our armed forces suffers unfair prosecution, vexatious or unfair prosecution for cases that happened many years ago where no new evidence has been provided”.
Part of the Stormont House Agreement was the creation of the Historical Investigations Unit to take on the criminal justice element of examining the past.
A separate mechanism will offer bereaved relatives the chance to find out more about their loved ones’ deaths without the prospect of a conviction.
In his column, Mr Davis yesterday said the Troubles “were an extremely difficult period” and that the conflict “left indelible scars on the fabric of the nation”. “Thousands died,” he said. “This is why it is imperative we take legitimate accusations seriously. Where murder has been committed, where the law has been broken and when wrong has been done, legal recourse must be available.”
Mr Davis said the former Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and its successor, the Legacy Investigation Branch, were “important” but that their approach was “flawed”.
“The Armed Forces were responsible for approximately 10% of killings during the Troubles,” he wrote. “Yet 30% of the effort is going into investigating them.”
The MP stated: “I do not for a moment think we should condone, nor turn a bind eye to, murders carried out in uniform.
“But the fear today is that we are going to see a sudden rush of new investigations into honourable and decent people whose only crime is to have served their country with patriotism and courage.
“Men in their seventies and eighties could face the misery of being dragged through the courts over events in which they behaved entirely properly but which are capable of misrepresentation because of the clouding of the mists of time.”
Mr Davis said the Prime Minister’s manifesto pledge to end “unfair” prosecutions of veterans was crucial, adding that “loyal soldiers should be protected from politically motivated and vexatious accusations of murder”.
“But that protection should be legislated for
now,” he urged.
The MP called for “sensible, level-headed action”, adding “we need to make sure straight away there are comprehensive legal protections for those who deserve the Government’s aid”.